Letters from the taxman. Snakes. Sharks. People with large hair. These are just a few of the things that frighten me senseless. But all these fears pale in comparison to the terrifying prospect of relaxation.

You see, as a small business owner, one becomes accustomed to being in a perpetual state of motion, veering chaotically from one crisis to the next and systematically solving problems. And yes, we get a weird kind of psychotic kick out of it.

So, when the proverbial plate is empty, the to-do list provisionally ticked off until the next surge of work comes barrelling in, one is left with a strange sinking feeling, unsettled by the suddenly barren inbox and manageable schedule.

Now a sensible person would use this bonus down time to do lovely things like sit by the pool or get stuck into a good book. That’s the dream right? Yet somehow, despite numerous attempts to lock down this laissez-faire lifestyle, I remain squarely incapable of lowering the intensity volume, certain that there must be something I’m missing and should thus attend to.

As a result, I end up becoming the business equivalent of a desperate girlfriend, firing off unnecessarily chatty emails to clients, bothering my employees with irrelevant questions and just generally being a huge handful.

Once I’ve exercised every available social avenue that can be even vaguely linked to business, I tend to forge ahead with work that I know to be imminent, despite having little to no idea as to what is actually required. Yet like a shark, I must keep moving forward. Progress is progress.

You see, I know that one day, this glorious passage of downtime will pass, and everybody WILL wake up at the exact same moment to rain fire and brimstone down upon my inbox. There’ll be sleepless nights. Nails will be gnawed to the quick. Panic attacks will ensue en masse. And it’s this knowledge that drives me to stay ahead of the curve.

Of course, given that I’m working off an imaginary brief in this scenario, I’m woefully incapable of actually achieving anything, essentially making up the task as I go along. But hey, I’m being ‘productive’ I tell myself. Disciplined. Noble.

What I’m actually doing is wasting time. Sitting by the pool would have at least resulted in a tan. Reading a book might have improved my intellectual cachet a little. But this? Not a thing.

It’s important to remember that, when it comes to business, the only thing that matters is the outcome. The fact that you worked tirelessly for 17 days straight to achieve said outcome is of no interest to anybody whatsoever. You don’t get extra points for that. So why are you wasting these potentially glorious hours in pursuit of blatantly unachievable goals?

The answer is, of course, fear. Fear that you might be found out. That someone will somehow uncover the fact that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

You see, as a small business owner, one somehow feels constantly inadequate, devoid of ‘adult’ business trappings like boardrooms and postal addresses. As such, we do our best to make up for it with hard work, believing this to somehow justify our ability to compete with more esteemed contemporaries. Sure we might not have embossed business cards or a company car, but that’s ok because we work MORE than everybody else. Take that corporate world!

But what you need to remember is, that whilst your more established colleagues are making use of admittedly sweet corporate luxuries, 95% of them are wishing they were you. So hop in the damn pool and chill out. It’s going to be ok.

If you too suffer from busy body syndrome, here are a few coping mechanisms you might want to try during your next bout of downtime:

  • If you MUST stay active, why not tackle that personal admin that’s been piling up? By getting a load of laundry done or fixing that leaky pipe, you’re still feeding your urge for productivity, even if it isn’t the type that brings in the bucks.
  • Switch off your phone for an entire hour. Yes, it’s possible. Then block off said hour in your calendar for a recreational activity of your choice. That way, it still feels like a meeting. Yes, you might be wallowing in the pool, but you’re doing it in a totally professional way.
  • Get caught up on industry trends. Downtime affords you an unprecedented opportunity to get ahead of the game in a more fundamental sense, so grab a book and enjoy some guilt-free reading time as you top up on your professional know-how.